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Tatia’s Tattoo – Read Chapter 7 Here!

Tatia had trouble choosing someone to emulate. There were not many heroes or role models in her life.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 7. Chapter 8 will be posted on Thursday.

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CHAPTER 7: IMAGINATION STATION

On Wednesday, Tatia’s group finished lunch and went to the camp post office to check for any new messages. After reading her three notes, Michelle plopped down next to Betty on a bench and asked the most common question at camp: “What do we do next?”

Betty consulted the schedule on the back of her name tag before she answered. “We have forty-five minutes before we’re scheduled for Imagination Station. Let’s go to the patio. We’ll be right next to the Station, and there are three crafts to choose from.”

Both girls had time to make a spin-art picture, and while they were drying, another teen helper showed them how to weave a key chain with multi-colored strands of plastic. Betty stood back and smiled as she watched her giggling campers continue to forget their problems and enjoy a normal childhood for a few days. When the girls each had about a three-inch start on their chains, Betty glanced at her watch.

“Okay, ladies! It’s time for Imagination Station. Let me put your chains in my bag and let’s move in that direction.”

“But what about our pictures?” wailed Michelle, who was a bit of a drama queen.

“They need a few more minutes to dry. We’ll pick them up on the way back to the cabin to change for swimming.”

“Okay,” said Tatia, handing over her project. “What is Imagination Station anyway?”

“It’s a little hard to explain,” said her counselor. “You’ll see for yourself in just a minute.”

The trio followed several other campers into the large room that normally served as the dining hall. The tables had been pushed back against the walls, and some of the chairs had been arranged in a circle at one end of the room. On the raised platform on the other end of the room, a Cheval mirror stood in front of a lone chair. The space between was filled with several hanging racks filled with fancy dresses, uniforms of various first responders, jerseys from a number of sports teams, and a selection of super hero costumes. There were also several tables loaded with shoes, purses, jewelry, and all sorts of accessories.

The counselors took seats and settled back with looks of anticipation on their faces, eager to see what their children would discover about themselves in the next few minutes. The curious campers were greeted by a tall, solid woman with shoulder-length salt-and-pepper hair, deep brown eyes, and an enthusiastic smile that put the girls at ease.

“Good afternoon, ladies!” she said. “My name is long and hard to pronounce, so you can call me Mrs. G. I’m sure you’ve seen me around, helping out here and there, but my favorite part of camp is Imagination Station where, for a few minutes, you are all encouraged to let your minds run free and imagine all the opportunities that are open to you in the years ahead. Does that sound like fun?”

Some of the girls, especially those who had been at camp before, nodded enthusiastically, but others like Tatia looked skeptical. Mrs. G continued.

“How many of you have ever played ‘dress up’?” she asked. A couple of the girls raised their hands while the rest shook their heads. “Well, now is your chance. I want each of you to pick out an outfit, complete with accessories, that represents something you might like to be in the future. After you get dressed, our photographers are waiting to take your pictures, and then I will visit with each of you for a few minutes in front of my Magic Mirror. Sound good?”

She was greeted by a chorus of excited agreements, and the small herd of children flowed by her as she stood out of the way. However, Tatia hung back, reluctant to join in the fun. She half-heartedly fingered a few of the costumes while Michelle donned a slinky black dress that was slit up one side, and Jane, another girl from their room, held up a pink satin dress, announcing that she wanted to dress like Jennifer Lopez. Mrs. G watched Tatia and recognized the symptoms of an imagination that had been crushed by too much hurt and too many disappointments.

“Hi, Tatia,” she said gently. “Is there someone in your life that you admire – someone you would like to be like one of these days?”

“I don’t know,” Tatia almost whispered.

“Well,” encouraged Mrs. G. “Is there someone on TV or the movies that you like?”

“No, I really don’t want to be famous.”

“That’s okay. How about a special teacher or a doctor – someone who has helped you or been especially kind to you?”

A small smile tugged at the corners of Tatia’s mouth. “There was this one lady I met several times when Mama died and then when Grandma got sick. She was the only one who really paid attention to me and asked me what I wanted. Not that it mattered much since nobody wanted me anyway. I think she was a lawyer.”

“A lawyer! I think you’d be a great lawyer, and I have just the outfit.”

Mrs. G helped Tatia find a tailored dress and a pair of black pumps. Both were a little big, but the enthusiasm of all the other girls was infectious.

“I like it,” said Tatia with a shy smile. “I’ll look for a scarf or something to use for a belt, and it will be fine.”

“Great!” said Mrs. G. “I’m sure you’ll find the perfect accessories, and I’ll see you in front of the Magic Mirror in a few minutes.”

She left Tatia browsing through the jewelry and purses, and she began calling the girls to the platform one at a time. She sat in the chair and positioned each camper in front of the mirror and asked them what they saw. With gentle questions and suggestions, she encouraged them to see beyond the hurt and abuse in their past and see the truth of who they were and of the possibilities that lay ahead of them.

Tatia found a black purse that, with a little imagination, could pass as a briefcase, and a gold chain necklace that added the perfect touch of conservative bling. While she waited to be called by Mrs. G, she watched Michelle prance around and pose for the photographer as if she had been modeling all her life. Tatia found her know-it-all attitude a little irritating, but she couldn’t help but envy her confidence. While she waited for one of the photographers to be free, she continued to watch as Michelle took her place in front of the mirror. Tatia was surprised when the self-assured, I-can-do-everything tween refused to look in the mirror. Suddenly, she was a timid little girl with no sense of self. In a flash of insight, Tatia realized that, in spite of outward appearances, Michelle didn’t believe she was worth anything at all.

“May I take your picture?” said one of the photographers, rousing Tatia from her thoughts.

“I guess so,” she said.

Her first poses looked like she was having a driver’s license photo or a mug shot taken, but with a little encouragement, she loosened up a bit and let her beautiful smile and her personality shine through. When her turn in front of the mirror came, she was surprised at how mature and poised she looked. As she imagined herself standing in a courtroom, Mrs. G talked about her underlying confidence and how her strength would see her through even the hard times.

When her time in front of the mirror was over, Tatia reluctantly stepped down from the platform. Before she went to take off her lawyer garb, she stopped and turned back.

“Thank you, Mrs. G. I think if I ever do this again, I’d like to dress up like you.”

Mrs. G didn’t respond immediately, but Tatia could see tears shining in her eyes as she swallowed hard. Then she found her voice and said, “I’d be honored, Tatia.”

After she carefully hung the dress back on the rack and returned her accessories to the table, Tatia went and sat next to Betty, who was wiping her eyes, and Michelle, who was uncharacteristically quiet.

“You both looked wonderful,” said Betty. “How did you feel when you looked in the mirror?”

“I was surprised,” said Michelle in a tiny voice. “I really looked pretty good.”

“Yes, you did,” said Betty, giving her shoulders a quick squeeze. “Really beautiful. And how about you, Tatia? Were you surprised?”

Tatia ducked her head and covered a smile with her hand. “Yeah, kinda,” she answered. “I mean, I looked serious – like someone who could really make a difference.”

Betty gave her a hug and wiped her eyes again, and then Mrs. G joined the group. Once again, she spoke with each girl individually. She talked briefly about her impressions of each one of them, and she gave them a stone with a single word painted on the front and a Scripture reference painted on the back. When she came to Tatia, she once again mentioned the inner strength she saw in her. The stone she gave her said “strength,” and on the back, it said “Phil. 4:13.”

“Do you know what that verse says?” Betty asked her as Mrs. G moved on to the next girl. Tatia shook her head, and Betty told her. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Tatia turned the stone over and over in her hand as those words turned over in her mind. She didn’t understand what they meant, and she certainly didn’t feel strong. When Betty announced it was time to go on to the next activity, Michelle was out the door first, as usual, and Tatia brought up the rear. She was almost out the door when she heard Mrs. G call her name.

“Tatia, I’m not supposed to do this, but I want you to have this.” She handed Tatia a card with her name and phone number on it. “I have a feeling that you’re on the edge of some kind of trouble. I’d like you to keep this with you, and if you ever need help, give me a call.”

“Okay,” Tatia said, slipping the card into her pocket. “Thanks.”

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book onAmazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 |Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4 | Chapter 5| Chapter 6

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Read Chapter 6 Here!

For the first time since Mama died, Tatia found a place where she was truly wanted.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 6. Chapter 7 will be posted on Sunday.

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CHAPTER 6: THE WHIRLWIND OF CAMP ACTIVITIES

“Would you like something to drink?” asked the flight attendant.

Tatia sighed, realizing she had been staring at the page dealing with signs of neglect and abuse since takeoff. She closed the notebook, slipped it into the small space between her hip and the armrest, and lowered her tray table. “Yes, I’ll have orange juice and a glass of water, please.” She would have liked another cup of coffee, but she couldn’t handle the instant decaf the airlines served. Her seat mate asked for black coffee, and the flight attendant turned back to her cart to fill their requests after handing them each a napkin and a bag of pretzels.

While she sipped her juice, Tatia thought about all the camps she had attended – the first one as a camper and ten more as a staff volunteer. The preparation for the last nine, when she had reviewed the study material on her own, had all been the same. She tried to re-read the text, and every year she became lost in the memory of those early years. She pulled out the notebook again, careful not to knock over either of her glasses, and opened it to the section called “Been There, Done That.” She read through it quickly, reminding herself that her own experiences could be an asset as long as she used them to help her understand her campers, focusing on the uniqueness of each child and not projecting her story onto any of them. Then, she slid the notebook that she could quote by rote into the seat pocket in front of her and settled back to remember.

After Jesse and Kaley disappeared, Tatia looked around and realized all her other siblings were gone, too, so she resumed her trek toward the front of the bus. As soon as her feet touched the ground, an older woman who must have been one of the grandmothers offered her a wide smile and held out her hand and said, “Hi, welcome to camp! I’m Ellie.”

Tatia responded with a tentative smile and took her hand. Ellie gently covered Tatia’s hand with her other one and gazed into her eyes with a look that said it’s okay, you’re safe here. With her mouth, she said, “What’s your name, honey?”

Tatia responded first to the look, and she felt some of the tension leave her tight shoulders. “Tatia,” she said, responding to the question.

“Okay, Tatia,” said Ellie, tucking her hand protectively into the crook of her elbow, “let’s go find your counselor.”

They didn’t have far to go. As they rounded the front of the bus, they almost collided with a short, middle-aged woman wearing a lop-sided smile and a wide-brimmed straw hat. She was holding up a neon yellow sign with TATIA spelled out in hot pink bubble letters.

Ellie looked at Tatia and grinned. “Looks like we found her.”

The woman smiled even wider. “Tatia?” she asked.

Tatia nodded shyly.

The woman gave her a warm, camp-regulation side hug and said, “Hi! I’m Betty, your counselor for the week. I’m so excited to finally meet you. And this is Michelle.” She indicated a girl about Tatia’s age but slightly taller and heavier. She had a mass of braids, caught up on top of her head and cascading down one side. She had a sweet smile and one perfect dimple. “The three of us are going to be a team this week, and we’re going to have lots of fun.”

Michelle and Tatia said a timid “Hi” to each other while Betty struggled with the three lanyards that were twisted around her neck. “Here,” she said, holding out the welcome signs to the girls. “Hang on to these while I get your name tags untangled.” When she finally straightened out the mess and put the name tag around Tatia’s neck, it was much more than a cord and a little piece of plastic. It was a promise that, at least for the next few days, somebody knew who she was and that somebody cared.

The first thing on the agenda was lunch, followed by rest time. Nobody really rested though; there was way too much to see and do. The counselors helped their campers dig through the piles of luggage to find the suitcases, backpacks, or plastic bags that contained the clothes and other personal belongings they had brought from home. Tatia and Michelle had no problems locating their bags, and Betty was soon herding them toward the dorm they would call home for the week. A steady stream of humanity funneled into the main doorway before splitting, boys and men to the hallway on the right, girls and women to the left. The stream continued to diminish as people found their rooms. Betty and her girls continued all the way to the last door on the left. Then, they stopped as they were confronted once again with the preparation that had been made for their arrival.

The door to the room was covered with names – lots of names – and Tatia wondered just how big that room was. First, though, she scanned the door until she found her own name. She reached out and traced the letters with her finger as if to make certain that somebody really had been expecting her.

“Hey, what’s the holdup!” someone shouted from further back in the hallway.

“Come on, girls,” said Betty. “Let’s get on into the room so we can get settled and get ready to go swimming.”

“Swimming! Yeah!” said both girls as they pushed the door open. They almost stopped short again, but Betty urged them to keep moving.

“We’re all the way in the far corner,” she said.

The room was small and ugly – no more than twenty feet by thirty feet with a concrete floor, cinder block walls, and a ceiling covered with insulation held in place by chicken wire. It was furnished with nine sets of bunk beds lined up against both walls with barely a foot of clearance between beds. A narrow aisle, approximately four feet wide, ran down the center of the room. Still, it had been transformed into a wonderland by counselors armed with strings of lights, crepe paper streamers, balloons, posters, and signs. The girls gaped at all the decorations, almost stumbling over campers who had arrived before them and were already trying to find places to stow their belongings.

Tatia squealed with delight when she reached the end of the room and saw the small sign on the last bunk – TATIA’S BED. “I’ve never slept in a bunk bed before, and I get the top one!”

Michelle seemed a bit disappointed that she had a lower bunk, but she took it in stride. “I had the top bunk last year. Just be sure you don’t step on me if you have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.”

Both girls giggled, and Betty hoped their good start would continue throughout the week. She set to work helping the girls find places for their bags and checking to see if they had swimsuits, flip flops, and towels for their trip to the pool. She discovered that Tatia needed a T-shirt to wear over her swimsuit since her two-piece suit didn’t meet the camp dress code. Both girls needed sheets, and Betty thought they might need socks later in the week, but she’d worry about that later. The first priority right now was to get the girls to the pool for the swim test.

There were two choices for swimming – the pool and the pond. Non-swimmers and the more timid kids stayed in the pool that was about five feet at the deep end. This was a great place for volleyball games, floating toys, and water gun fights. The swimmers and more adventurous went to the pond, a deeper and more natural body of water with a big slide, a trapeze, and a zip line. Both girls passed the test and were awarded a red wrist band which gave them access to the pond and the pool, with an accompanying counselor, of course. They spent forty-five minutes in the pond, squealing, splashing, sliding, and having the kind of carefree fun that was too often lacking from their lives.

Lights out was at nine o’clock. By the time Tatia donned her pajamas, brushed her teeth and climbed into her bunk, she had made a pillowcase and a bookmark using a real sewing machine, learned several new songs and watched a funny skit in Chapel, eaten dinner and played games with new friends, picked up a handful of notes from her counselor and camp grandparents from her personal camp mailbox, and had a devotional and bedtime prayers with her counselor. As she snuggled down in the sleeping bag Betty had brought her from the camp store, her head was spinning with new memories. She played each one through her mind like a video, trying to decide which was her favorite, and she finally settled on the song they sang in Chapel called “Big House.” It was exactly what she pictured when she thought about her Mama and Daddy being in their Father’s house. She lay in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the other girls settling down for the night, and drifted off to sleep singing to herself:

Come and go with me to my Father’s house. It’s a big, big house with lots and lots of room; a big, big table with lots and lots of food; a big, big yard where we can play football; a big, big house. It’s my Father’s house.

She was so exhausted each night from the blur of activity that she had the nightmare about Mama and Daddy in their boxes only once. Even the morning after waking up in tears in the middle of the night, she was excited to see what the day held. Throughout the week, she built a keepsake box with a real hammer, she had her first root beer float ever, and she played on a huge homemade Slip-and-Slide. She attended a royal princess tea party dressed in a beautiful ball gown, and at the camp variety show she performed a rap recitation of the books of the Bible with the other girls from her cabin. Her two favorite activities, though, were Imagination Station where she met Mrs. G and Everybody’s Birthday Party where she really met Jesse.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4| Chapter 5

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Read Chapter 5 Here!

For the next few weeks I will be sharing the first several chapters Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 5. Chapter 6 will be posted on Thursday.

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CHAPTER 5: THE DARKER SIDE OF ERIC

Tatia looked up when the flight attendant began her pre-flight announcements. She was one of those who tried to be entertaining in order to maintain the attention of her passengers, but it was still the same information Tatia had heard on the hundreds of flights she had been on in the last few years. She turned her attention back to the section of her notebook dealing with signs of neglect and various kinds of abuse. She recognized some of her former campers as she re-read the now familiar pages, and she also recognized some aspects of her younger self.

While Tatia had not been actively abused, the neglect she suffered in the home of her emotionally unstable grandmother and later, in over-crowded foster homes, left her vulnerable. By the time she was in middle school, she was beautiful in a sensually innocent way that child predators dream of. She suffered from the low sense of self-worth that comes when a child’s basic need for food, shelter, protection, or love goes unfulfilled. She craved positive personal attention, but she didn’t know how to get it, so she was often alone.

Tatia was supposed to ride the bus to and from school, but she hated it. It wasn’t too bad in the morning, because hers was the first stop. She could sit in the front seat, and no one dared to taunt or torment her within earshot of the driver. When she rode in the afternoon, though, the kids whose last class was closer to the bus stop filled the front seats before she boarded the bus, and she was forced to sit toward the back. No one sat with her, but the more popular girls surrounded her, throwing out the passive-aggressive verbal torture that was the plight of the foster kids.

The first day of school wasn’t too bad, but after that, once the rest of the student body had identified the foster kids, life was pretty unpleasant. So, Tatia sat on the front seat in the morning, and she walked home every afternoon. It wasn’t difficult. With the promise of doing extra chores when she made it home, she talked Josie into signing a note giving her permission to ride home with a friend she didn’t really know after book club meetings she never attended. She was such a good student that nobody questioned the truth of her claims, and she came to enjoy the quiet solitude of the mile walk between the torture of school and the chaos of home. Then, she met Eric.

On a beautiful day in early March, one of those rare spring days in Texas when the air promised new life and the trees were tinged with green, he came into her life. As she walked down the shoulder of the road with the light breeze playing with her curls, she was almost happy until she heard a car coming from behind, slowing down as it approached. She picked up her pace a bit and focused on the path ahead of her, determined not to let this intruder spoil her last few minutes of peace before the bedlam of the evening began. However, as the shiny fender of the sporty red convertible entered her peripheral vision, she couldn’t keep from sneaking a peek.

“Excuse me,” said the driver. “I just realized I’m almost out of gas, and I’m new in town. Is there a gas station down this direction?”

Tatia kept walking but slowed a bit, matching her stride to the slow roll of his vehicle. Without looking at him, she replied, “No, not for about twenty miles. Make a u-turn and turn right at the stoplight. There are two stations in the next block.”

“OK. Thanks.”

“No problem,” she said, beginning to pick up her pace again.

“I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but you have beautiful hair.”

Surprised, she stopped and turned her head to look at him. She struggled to keep her mouth from falling open – he was the most startlingly handsome man she had ever seen, except on the covers of the romance novels Josie liked to read. He had it all – the square jaw, full lips, dimples, smoldering eyes, black hair, and one stray curl that had escaped onto his forehead to keep him from being absolutely perfect. She felt what she was sure was the monster blush of all times reddening her cheeks as he flashed her a perfect smile.

“Anyway,” he said, waving and stepping on the gas, “thanks again.”

Before she could find her voice, he had made his u-turn and was gone. “Real cool, Tatia,” she said as she continued her walk toward home. “Mr. Perfect pays you a compliment, and you can’t say thanks, you’re welcome, or even have a nice day. Not that it matters. I’ll never see him again.”

She did, though. The next day she saw him on the same road, driving in the opposite direction. He smiled and waved, and she almost smiled before ducking her head. The following day, his flashy ride was at the four-way stop a couple of blocks from the school, and the day after, he came out of the post office as she was walking by on the other side of the street. Each time, he smiled and waved, and each time, she became a little braver, finally returning his greeting with a smile and wave of her own.

Then, it was the weekend, and she didn’t see him for two days. When Monday came, she found herself hoping to catch a glimpse of him as she walked out of the library. What she saw was her handsome stranger sitting in one of two chairs just outside the door, twirling a single dandelion between his fingers. She didn’t actually see him at first – she was reading the cover blurb of the book she had just checked out.

“Hi there,” he said.

She jumped, let out a little screech, and dropped her book. “You scared me,” she stammered, leaning back against the door jamb with one hand on her chest.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, picking up the book and handing it to her.

“It’s okay. I just wasn’t expecting to see anyone. Nobody sits in those chairs – usually,” she replied with a breathless giggle.

“Well, I just saw this first color of spring,” he said, holding out the flower, “and I thought of you the first time I saw you walking along the road last week.”

This time she managed a real smile as she accepted the flower. “Thank you. That’s really sweet.”

“No problem, right? I gotta run, but since we seem to run in the same areas, I’ll probably be seeing you.”

“Okay,” she said, still looking at the rather wilted flower. “It’s pretty.”

“Like you. I wish it could be a bouquet of roses,” he said as he walked toward the parking lot. Then, he turned back. “By the way, my name’s Eric. What’s yours?”

“Tatia.”

“A beautiful name for a beautiful lady,” said Eric, getting into his car and driving away.

Tatia slowly sank into one of the chairs as she watched him drive away. Her head was spinning from the unfamiliar feeling of being the focus of so much attention and so many compliments. “Beautiful? Me?” she whispered. “A lady?” Then she let out a self-deprecating laugh. “He’s not perfect after all. He needs glasses!”

Still shaking her head slightly, she shifted her backpack into a more comfortable position and turned her thoughts toward home and the reality of her world.

After their encounter at the library, Tatia and Eric saw each other almost every day after school. Some days he would wait for her outside the library, and they would sit in the two chairs on the porch and talk. Other days they would walk to the tiny city park that was three blocks away and sit together on a bench and watch the squirrels. Sometimes he would pass her as she walked along the county road toward home, and he would do a quick u-turn and pull over to the shoulder of the road. At first, she would lean on the edge of the door, but as she became more comfortable with him, she would sit in the car while they talked.

Tatia looked forward to their little encounters. It never occurred to her to wonder why Eric was always around when other adults she knew were still at work. All she knew was that he seemed interested in her and in what was going on in her life, even if it was just a science project that was due or a snotty group of girls in the cafeteria. He really listened to what she had to say, and he made her feel special. He also brought her little gifts from time to time. At first he brought silly things, like the dandelion or the fortune cookie from his take-out lunch. As they became better acquainted, he brought gifts that were small but significant in their meaning – a pink gel pen because pink was her favorite color or a tube of cherry flavored lip balm because one of the brats at home had stolen hers.

After a few weeks, on a particularly warm day in April, Eric took another step in their friendship. He had the top down on his Corvette, and Tatia was sitting in the passenger seat, telling him about the latest antics of her crazy math teacher. “Hey,” he said when she paused in her story, “I’d give my right arm for a cherry limeade right now. How about you?”

“I don’t know,” she hesitated. “I don’t have any money with me.”

“No problem. It’s happy hour – my treat.”

“Okay, sure. I just can’t stay very long. Josie gets really mad when I’m late and she has to deal with the kids.”

“We’ll leave in plenty of time, and I’ll drop you off at the end of your street so you don’t have far to walk.”

After that, he often waited for her in his car a block or two from the library, and she hopped in with no hesitation for a breezy, top-down ride to run an errand with him or into town for ice cream or a shaved ice. The gifts came more often, and if not exactly extravagant, at least a little bigger and more expensive. One day he brought her a T-shirt featuring her favorite band.

“Oh, Eric! You shouldn’t have,” she said excitedly.

“But I wanted you to have it.”

“Thank you so much. But how will I explain this to Josie?”

“Do what my mom used to do. Hide it in the back of your closet for a few weeks before you wear it. Then, if she asks where you got it, just say ‘This old thing? I’ve had it for a long time, but it was stuck in the back of the closet.’”

Tatia laughed, still admiring the shirt. “That would probably work. I do all the laundry anyway, so she doesn’t really know what we have. And it wouldn’t really be a lie, would it?”

“Of course not. Besides, you’ll look great in that shirt. But then you look good in anything you wear.”

“Oh, you’re always saying that.”

“That’s because it’s true. You really are beautiful.” he said, reaching over and playing with a couple of curls that had escaped from her ponytail.

The touching was something else that had increased. At first they didn’t touch at all. When they started walking to the park or along the roadside together, he would sometimes bump her playfully with his elbow or sometimes even with his hip. Then, if he had a special gift for her, he would make her close her eyes and hold out her hand. He would sandwich her hand between his with the gift between their palms, and when she opened her eyes, he would reveal the surprise by opening his hand as if he were opening the lid of a treasure chest. She didn’t really notice the progression until she began riding in the car with him. When she made him laugh, he would sometimes grab her playfully by the back of the neck or pat her on the leg, and when they went for ice cream, he sometimes sat on the same side of the booth with her, really close so their legs touched, almost like a real boyfriend. She never felt uncomfortable, though – well, almost never – and if she withdrew even a little bit, he backed off, so she felt safe.

There was one time, though, when she saw a side of him she didn’t like very much. It was early June, right after school was over. As an end-of-school present, he had given her a prepaid cell phone so she could get in touch with him when she could manage to get out of the house. This particular day, she called to see if he was free. He was, so she told Josie she was meeting Ms. Dunham for a special session about what to expect at camp and how to handle the new situations she would encounter. Tatia said she would walk into town, and Ms. Dunham would pick her up there so Josie wouldn’t have to drive her. After the T-shirt incident, it had become easier to stretch the truth or outright lie, especially if it meant spending time with Eric. She missed their daily visits after school, and she was pretty sure he did, too. She was really excited to see him and tell him her big news about camp.

Eric picked her up at the four-way stop in front of the courthouse and headed toward her favorite ice cream shop in Cameron, a nearby town where they were less likely to run into anyone who knew her. She was almost bubbling over and wanted to tell him about camp in the car, but she also wanted to have his full attention so she could watch his reaction as she told him about all the exciting things she would be doing. Unfortunately, he didn’t share her enthusiasm.

“Camp? Why would you want to go to camp?” he almost shouted, his face darkening in a way that made her draw back and drop her eyes. He saw her reaction and took a deep breath and continued in a calmer tone of voice. “I mean, I thought we had a good thing going here. Why would you want to go hang out with a bunch of kids?”

“I thought you’d be excited for me,” she said, still looking down.“I don’t get to do much in the summer. I have to lie to Josie to get out long enough to see you. At camp someone else will be looking after the kids and all I’ll have to worry about is me. Besides, it’s only five days.”

“I know,” he said, covering her small hand with his larger one. “I guess I’m just afraid some other guy will steal your heart if I’m not around to protect my interests.” He laughed self-consciously and pulled his hand back. “Pretty pathetic, huh?”

She smiled and put her hand on his arm. “I think it’s sweet. Nobody has ever been jealous over me before.”

He returned her smile and relaxed back into his seat. “Okay. Let’s start all over. Tell me about camp.”

She chattered on for five minutes, telling him everything Ms. Dunham had told her – about the swimming, the crafts, the princess tea, and the birthday party. “One of the fun things is that camp is the week before my real birthday. It will be the first birthday party I’ve ever had. Oh, I probably had them before…you know…but I don’t remember them.”

“Hey, when is your birthday?”

“June 30.”

“Tell you what. When you get back, you and I will have a real birthday party, one you don’t have to share with a camp full of other kids.”

“Really?” she asked with wide-eyed wonder.

“Really,” he said. “Be thinking of some way you can get away for a whole evening. We’ll go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant – do it up right.”

“That sounds awesome,” she said quietly as if she was afraid to believe it.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “This isn’t one of those Bible-thumping camps where they fill your head with God and Jesus and all that stuff, is it?”

“Ms. Dunham said it’s a Christian camp. We have Chapel and sing songs, but there’s no pressure. She said the main point is to let kids like me have fun and be kids for a few days. I don’t know about the God part, but the fun part sounds like Heaven to me.”

“Okay, I guess,” he said. “As long as you don’t decide to be a nun or something and forget all about me.”

“Right. Like that’s gonna happen,” she said as she turned her attention back to her ice cream.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Read Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Read Chapter 4 Here!

For the next few weeks I will be sharing the first several chapters Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 4. Chapter 5 will be posted on Sunday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 4: WELCOME TO CAMP

Tatia inched down the aisle of the MD-88 behind a tangle of arms, legs, and luggage wheels as the late-boarding passengers vied for limited overhead bin space. Her nose told her that at least one of her fellow passengers had opted for a heavy spritz of cologne in lieu of a shower, and she was grateful when she realized she was passing rather than sitting by the offender. The aroma of brewing coffee soon overpowered the unpleasant smell as Tatia moved back toward the galley. Her travel agent usually arranged seats closer to the front of the plane, but apparently the Dallas-Ft. Worth area was a popular destination this time of year. Thankfully, though, her seat was by the window on the two-seat side of the plane so she would only disrupt one person if she needed to move around during the flight.

By some miracle, Tatia found a vacant spot where her suitcase fit with a minimum of shoving, and she slid into 29E just as the stewardess began to encourage the stragglers to take their seats. Her traveling companion for the next two and a half hours was already plugged into the tunes she had stored on her phone, so Tatia pulled out her notebook before sliding her shoulder bag under the seat in front of her.

She had received the resource notebook the second time she went to Royal Children’s Camp, that time as Deborah Grochowsky’s staff assistant. The neatly typed pages, organized into sections by printed dividers, belied the emotions behind the words – words that attempted to prepare the volunteer camp workers for the intensity of the feelings they would experience as they encountered innocent victims of childhood abuse and sought to impact their lives with the love and acceptance they wanted and needed.

When she opened the purple vinyl cover, her eyes fell on the two index cards in the inside pocket. After her first year as a counselor instead of a staff assistant or teen helper, Tatia was allowed to forego the training weekend with the understanding that she would review the notebook on her own. Each spring, she received any material revisions along with two cards, one for each girl she would fall in love with during their week together. The cards contained scant information – first name, age, and pertinent information. Notations might include *New, *Bed Wetter, *Runner, or *Night Terrors, and almost all of them included *Meds. This year, both her girls were on medications, and one was new, but neither had other issues. One was eleven years old, and the other was twelve. She preferred to work with the older girls, always hoping she might create life-changing moments and somehow save them from making the mistakes she had made.

She whispered a prayer for the two precious children whose lives had been reduced to words on cards, praying that by this time next week they would both know how special they were to God and to her. She thought about Monday when each child would step off the bus, timidly looking around for an unfamiliar face and a welcome sign with his or her name, indicating that, at least for the next five days, she belonged. She smiled as she thought of the signs she had made over the years, signs on neon-colored poster board lettered with sparkly letters cut from sheets of adhesive foam, all supported on stir sticks from the paint store.

These silly signs represented so much to these who had so little, and that’s why the entire staff jumped around like crazy people as the buses approached, yelling and waving signs, anxious to see the fearful expressions melt into relieved smiles as the thought registered, Oh, that’s my name! That’s also why she was flying in a day earlier than absolutely necessary – so she could spend a couple of hours in the middle of piles of art supplies, cutting out sparkly letters.

Tatia thought back to the summer Ms. Dunham had arranged for her to go to camp. The day they left, she and her foster siblings were so excited and full of chatter that even Josie’s threats of making them stay home if they didn’t settle down couldn’t dampen their spirits. However, as soon they climbed aboard the bus and confronted a sea of tense, wide-eyed faces, their smiles faded, and they froze in place until Tatia pushed them all toward the back where they squeezed together onto two seats across the aisle from each other.

By the time they reached the camp, the younger ones were whimpering and begging to go home. Then, they noticed a commotion in front of them as the other children crowded close to the windows in spite of admonitions from the adult riders to stay seated.

“Look! Look!” they shouted excitedly as they pointed and pressed their noses to the glass.

Curious, Tatia and her crew moved to the right side of the bus and craned their necks to see what had sparked life into everyone. What they saw was a large group of people from teens on up, all smiling and jumping, waving their arms or signs, laughing and shouting. The signs had names in large letters, and some of the letters were sparkly.

“Look! Shelby! That’s my name!!” shouted one excited little girl.

“Yes, campers,” said one of the adults. She had given up trying to keep them in their seats, and she seemed as excited as the people outside. “All this excitement is for you, to welcome you to camp. As soon as the bus stops, gather up anything you brought on the bus with you. When you get off the bus, there will be camp grandparents, aunts, and uncles to help you look for a sign with your name. The person who is holding that sign will be your counselor for the week. Your counselor will take you to lunch and then help you find the rest of your luggage. Welcome to Royal Children’s Camp. Get ready to have fun!”

As she finished speaking, the bus lurched to a halt, gently tossing everyone against the seat in front of them. No one seemed to mind, though, as the sense of excitement spread. Tatia herded her little group toward the door, making sure nothing had been left behind. She was halfway down the aisle when she felt a tug on her shorts. She turned to see her youngest charge, looking scared and smearing tears across her cheeks with the backs of her hands.

“Tatia,” she wailed. “how will I find my name? I can’t read.”

“It’s okay,” Tatia said, kneeling beside her and picking up the ragged, stained blanket she had dropped on the floor. “I’ll help you.”

“How about I help her,” she heard someone say. “And how about you go find your counselor and start having a good time.”

Tatia looked up into a pair of twinkling gray eyes that were so full of life and joy that she couldn’t help smiling back. “Well, that’s very nice, but…”

“I know. Your mom told you to watch out for the little ones, right?”

“Yeah.”

“But that’s not your job this week. Your job is to be a kid and have fun.”

“But you’re a kid,” she said, still a little bit unsure.

“Well, yeah, but I’m sixteen, and I’m one of the teen helpers. My name is Jesse. See. It says so right here,” he said, showing her the badge he wore on a lanyard around his neck. Then, he smiled and held out his hand. Reassured by his easy-going manner and the small heart and cross tattoo on the inside of his forearm, she took his hand, and he pulled her to her feet.

“Thanks. My name’s Tatia, and this is Kaley.”

“Hi, Kaley,” he said, squatting down by the five-year-old who, by this time, had her thumb in her mouth and the corner of her blanket lying against the side of her face. “I’m Jesse, and I can read. Can I help you find your name while Tatia goes and finds hers?”

Kaley stared at him silently for a few seconds before nodding and putting her free hand in his.

“Do you have anything on the bus besides your blanket,” he asked her. She continued to stare at him seriously as she slowly shook her head. “Okay, let’s go,” he said as he led her toward the front of the bus. After a few steps he stopped and looked back at Tatia. “The counselors for the older kids are over there,” he said pointing past the driver. “Have a great week. See ya’ around.”

By the time she did a final check to be sure she wasn’t leaving anything, Jesse and Kaley were gone. She smiled to herself, thinking that she liked his eyes and his smile. He was almost as cute at Eric.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Read Chapter 3 Here!

For the next few weeks I will be sharing the first several chapters Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 3. Chapter 4 will be posted on Thursday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 3: CONVERSATIONS WITH AN ANGEL AND A BIKER

“Are you sad?” said a little voice.

It took Tatia a minute to realize that the voice wasn’t in her head but was coming from Angel who was standing in front of her, staring up into her face. She smiled at Angel, wiping away the wetness from her cheeks.

“No, sweetheart. I was thinking about a time when I was sad, but I’m happy now.”

“Me, too!” said Angel, rocking from one foot to the other. “I’m going on an airplane to see my grandma.”

“I’ll bet she’s happy about that, too,” said Tatia.

“Yeah. Are you going to see your grandma and make her happy?”

“No, sweetie. My grandma is with Jesus now, and I’m sure she’s happy there.”

“Yeah, Jesus makes people happy. I gotta go now.” Angel turned toward where her parents were sitting.

As Angel skipped away, Tatia thought about her grandmother. She did the right thing and took Tatia into her home – she always did the right thing – but she never grew to love her granddaughter. Maybe it was because her heart was broken over the loss of her only son, or maybe she was filled with the guilt of her daughter-in-law’s suicide. Regardless of the reason, she rarely spoke to Tatia or even looked at her. She stopped going to church and eventually withdrew into the safety of her bedroom where she surrounded herself with photo albums and memories.

One day a neighbor dropped a bag of groceries on the way from the car to the house. A careless grocery clerk had put a half-gallon of orange juice in the same sack with a bag of cereal. The heavy juice landed on the cereal, and the bag burst, scattering toasted O’s across the driveway and the lawn. The frustrated homeowner hurried into the house and returned with a broom and dustpan, hoping to sweep up the mess before she had a mass of ants to deal with. She was shocked when she saw a dirty and unkempt five-year-old girl kneeling on the driveway, stuffing handfuls of cereal into her mouth as fast as she could.

The neighbor brought Tatia inside and sat her down at the table with a real bowl of cereal, a piece of toast, and a glass of milk. Then she began making phone calls. Within hours Grandma had been taken away in an ambulance, and since she had no other living relatives, Tatia became a ward of the State, one more homeless child in the foster system.

Tatia’s phone simultaneously vibrated and chimed, jarring her out of the past. She looked up, surprised at the crowd that was now packed into the waiting area and the line that was beginning to form in front of the tunnel entrance. Then, she looked down at her phone and smiled at Jesse’s latest text.

Are you there yet?

Still at the gate, she typed.

Better get going, Girl. I’m halfway there!

Ha! That ancient hog probably isn’t out of Ohio yet.

Did you pack your boots?

No room. Wearing them. Should be in sandals. You better have a good reason!

Maybe. Maybe not! You’ll see!

Tatia had been ignoring the annoying announcements of the gate agent, but the words “Boarding all rows” finally caught her attention.

Final boarding call. Gotta go! she typed quickly.

See you Sunday!

She flashed him an emoticon smile, set her phone on silent, and stuffed it into her pocket. She felt it vibrate as she handed her boarding pass to the agent. She rolled her bag down the jetway, and when she stopped behind the line of people waiting to board, she pulled her phone out and glanced at the screen. The little round face blowing a heart-shaped kiss made her own heart skip a beat, but she shook her head as if shooing away a buzzing pest. If only she had met Jesse before she met Eric, she thought. Setting her phone on airplane mode, she slipped it into her shoulder bag and tried to shift her thoughts from Jesse to the two pre-teen girls who were waiting for her in Texas.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Read Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Read Chapter 2 Here!

For the next few weeks I will be sharing the first several chapters Tatia’s Tattoo. The link to the Preface and Chapter 1 is at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 2. Chapter 3 will be posted on Sunday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 2: CAMP MEMORIES AND FAMILY GOOD-BYES

She made it through security in record time and, as always, Tatia breathed a prayer of thanks for Senator Porter’s administrative assistant. After Tatia almost missed her first opportunity to testify before the Senate subcommittee that was reviewing the Trafficking Act, the efficient young woman from the Texas Senator’s office walked her through the red tape of the TSA Pre-Checked Security System. Still, Tatia always arrived well before flight time, just in case.

Her frequent flyer status entitled her to lounge privileges, but since she didn’t drink, smoke, or flirt, she preferred to spend her pre-flight time with the regular folks. She did, however, drink coffee, so she picked up a decaf mocha before heading toward her gate. She paid no attention to the glances and outright stares she attracted as she walked down the concourse with a long-legged stride, her shoulder-length blonde hair swinging in rhythm with the tap of her heels. Her thoughts were focused instead on the two campers she would meet for the first time in a couple of days. She felt the same mix of emotions she always felt before camp – the excitement of almost unlimited possibilities and the dread of the heartbreak that would come when, after being together twenty-four hours a day for five days, the week came to an end.

For now, however, she had a plane to catch, and she suddenly realized she was beyond where she would find hers. Relieved that she had no traveling companion to notice her lack of concentration, she quickly turned around and made her way back to the correct gate. The waiting area was almost empty, so she had her pick of seats. She chose one with a view of both the tarmac beyond the window and the desk where the gate agent would deal with irate passengers who were certain their situation was the most important on the planet. She smiled, looking forward to a week free of irate politicians who were even more certain than the passengers that their situations were the most important on the planet.

She settled back in her seat and pulled the purple notebook out of her shoulder bag. She sipped her coffee and flipped to the first page: “Royal Children’s Camp, Counselor and Staff Manual, Preparing Yourself for Camp.” The familiar pages were highlighted and the edges were tattered from years of use. She knew most of the material by heart, but going through it again helped refocus her mind from the outside world to the children. She skipped over a couple of pages and read the camp’s mission statement. The last sentence was underlined, highlighted, and marked with a star in the margin: “We will create life-changing moments and extend loving hands to these children of abuse.” She closed her eyes and whispered, “Help me create life-changing moments and loving memories for Carmella and Amanda.”

Her thoughts were interrupted by the patter of little feet and the excited squeals of a dark-haired five-year-old with sparkling brown eyes. “Daddy,” shouted the little girl, running to the window and pointing toward the runway at a plane that was just touching down. “Is that our airplane?”

A tall, handsome man with a suitcase in each hand followed her to the window and knelt beside her. “I don’t know, Angel,” he said with a loving smile as he pointed toward the area directly in front of where they were kneeling. “It might be. Our airplane will pull up right there, and when it’s time to go, we’ll walk through a tunnel and get on the plane.”

A young woman joined the pair, putting her overnight case on the floor and kneeling on the other side of Angel. “Mommy, our airplane will park right there, and we’ll walk through a tunnel. Daddy said!”

Tatia felt like an intruder, watching the little group share a family moment, but she couldn’t look away. It wasn’t a life-changing moment, but it was one of many moments that would accumulate into a lifetime of loving memories for Angel. Tatia’s life might have been very different if there had been time for a few more family moments for her.

“My daddy died,” said five-year-old Tatia.

“I know, sweetie,” said the nice church lady. “Would you like another cookie?”

Tatia didn’t want another cookie. She’d had three already and a plateful of chicken strips, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes. She didn’t want any more food. She wanted to talk about Daddy.

“He died over the seas somewhere. His car ran over a bomb, and he blew up. The preacher said he’s in his father’s house, but I saw him. He’s in a box and his face looked all painted.”

The church lady looked funny and her eyes got a little red.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie.”

She hugged Tatia and went to see if anybody else wanted another cookie. Tatia looked for her mama. She couldn’t find her, but she found her grandmother. She tried to climb up in her lap, but her grandmother pushed her away.

“Get down, Tatia. You’re too big to be sitting in my lap. Besides, your shoes are dirty, and you’ll ruin my dress.”

Tatia looked down at her black, patent-leather shoes. They had always been her favorites, the ones she was only allowed to wear to church or parties. They had straps, and she liked the special socks that went with them, the white ones with the pink lace around the edges. Now the shoes were splattered with sand from the graveyard. Bits of grass and several stray burrs clung to the lace on her socks.

“Now, go outside and clean yourself up.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Tatia said as she shuffled toward the door.

“Pick up your feet when you walk, and don’t slam the door on the way out.”

Tatia concentrated on being sure her shoes cleared the floor each time she took a step, and she slipped outside as quietly as she could.

It was nice outside. The fellowship hall of the little country church was too warm, and there were so many people that it was hard to breathe. Everyone in town knew her daddy, and they all came to pay their respects to a local war hero. They also turned out for the lunch afterward – the ladies at the First Baptist Church were famous for their cooking.

Tatia walked on the curb that ran along the edge of the driveway that looped from the parking lot to the front door and back toward the street. She balanced carefully until she came to the intersection of the cement and the grass, and then she sat down. She began gingerly pulling the burrs from her socks and brushing away the sand and grass. When they were as clean as she could get them, she stood and shook the way she’d seen her friend’s dog do after his bath, hoping to get rid of anything she missed.

“Tatia!”

She jumped when Aunt Sheila called her name. She had been so intent on her task she hadn’t heard the door open. Sheila wasn’t really her aunt, but she was Grandma’s best friend and acted like a surrogate aunt sometimes.

“Yes, ma’am?” she said quickly.

“You’d better get in here. Your grandma has been looking everywhere for you.”

Tatia sighed and hurried inside. No matter how hard she tried, it seemed like Grandma was always mad at her. Sometimes Tatia saw her whispering with Aunt Sheila and other ladies, and they all looked at her funny. One day she was outside playing, and she could hear what they were saying. She hadn’t meant to listen, but the window was open, and Grandma had a pretty loud voice.

“Steve would never have married her if she hadn’t been expecting Tatia. Sometimes I wonder if Steve is even her father, but he was determined to do the honorable thing. She and that baby ruined his life, and I’ll never forgive either of them for that.”

Tatia didn’t know what all that meant, but she knew it wasn’t good and that somehow it was her fault. Tatia wondered if Daddy liked it in his father’s house. She wondered if he had to stay in that box or if he could get out and walk around. She didn’t want to have to get her face all painted up and lie in a box, but if there was another way to get to where Daddy was, she’d sure like to go. She was still in Springdale, though, where he’d left her, and now Grandma was mad at her again. Mama was really sad, and tonight she would probably drink too much of that brown stuff that made her act funny. She wished her Daddy hadn’t run over that bomb.

Tatia had put on her pajamas and had been playing on the floor for a long time, but Mama hadn’t come in to help her say her prayers, tuck her in, and kiss her goodnight. She stood up, put all her dolls to bed, and kissed them. Then, clutching her favorite bear under her arm, she quietly opened her bedroom door. She peeked out into the hallway, and seeing no one, she tip-toed toward the living room and peered around the door jamb. Mama was lying down with one arm covering her eyes and the other hanging off the edge of the couch. She had a half-empty bottle of brown liquid clutched in her hand.

“Mama, I’m ready for bed.”

“Honey, this one time can you be a big girl and put yourself to bed? Mama doesn’t feel well.”

Tatia could always tell when Mama had been drinking a lot. Her words got all fuzzy and mashed up together.

“But, Mama, aren’t you going to help me with my prayers?”

“Why bother? He doesn’t hear them anyway, or if He does, he ignores them. We prayed for your daddy every night, and look how that turned out.”

Tatia was a little bit scared. She had never heard Mama’s voice sound like it sounded now – like somebody else was using Mama’s voice – like Mama wasn’t really there.

“But, Mama…”

“Tatia, I can’t! I have to think. I have to figure out what to do, how I’ll feed you, where we’ll live. I can’t do this by myself!”

As Mama began to sob, tears escaped from Tatia’s clear, blue eyes, rolling down her pink cheeks, dripping onto the blonde curls that fell across her shoulders as she stared at the floor. She thought about what she had heard outside the church before they left. Grandma was yelling at Mama.

“You think you’re all set now, don’t you? Well, I have an appointment with my lawyer tomorrow morning, and I will personally see to it that you and your daughter don’t get a cent of my son’s money, no survivor benefits, nothing. And that’s my house you’re living in. You have thirty days to be out.”

“But where will we go?” Mama had asked. “How will we live?”

“You’ll think of something. You managed to trap my son into marrying you. I’m sure there is a market somewhere for your skill set.”

Tatia didn’t understand what Grandma meant, but she knew it made Mama cry.

“Mama, please don’t cry. You’re not by yourself – I’m here. The preacher said Daddy is in his father’s house. Maybe we can go live with him.”

Mama’s sobs gradually slowed down, and she finally spoke again, so quietly that Tatia almost couldn’t hear her.

“Maybe.” She was quiet for a minute or two. “Yes, maybe I can. You go on to bed now, honey. I’ll be in to kiss you goodnight in a few minutes.”

Clutching her bear to her chest, Tatia slowly went back to her room and climbed into bed. She lay very still, listening for Mama. She was half asleep when she finally heard footsteps headed toward the bathroom. She heard Mama open the medicine cabinet door and turn on the water. Tatia imagined her taking an aspirin – she did that sometimes when she drank a lot of that stuff. Then, she heard Mama coming toward her room. The door opened and Mama came over and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Are you still awake, Tatia.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Give me a hug, sweetheart.”

Tatia hugged her, and Mama squeezed her so tight she could hardly breathe. Then, she kissed her on top of the head and Tatia could feel Mama’s tears dripping onto her hair. She almost giggled, but then Mama began to whisper, almost like she was talking to herself.

“Tatia, you are the best thing that ever happened to me. The only good thing I ever did was bring you into this world, and now I can’t even take care of you. But you’re so beautiful, so special – they’ll grow to love you as much as I do. I miss you already.”

“But I’m right here, Mama.”

“Of course you are, my darling. I just hate to be away from you even when you’re asleep. I love you more than anything. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mama, I know – to the moon and back. And I love you, too.”

Mama kissed her one more time and then tucked her in. She walked to the door and paused. Without turning around she spoke again, so quietly Tatia wasn’t sure she heard right.

“I’m so sorry, Tatia. Good-bye.”

When Tatia woke up the next morning, the sun was peeking through the cracks between the blinds. She stretched and listened for the familiar morning sounds of Mama taking a shower or fixing breakfast, but she heard nothing. She strained to hear the talk show Mama watched every morning, but there was nothing but silence. She sniffed for the smell of coffee, but that was missing, too. Maybe Mama was still in bed with a headache from the stuff she drank. Tatia would have to be very quiet this morning.

She slipped out of bed, dragging her bear and her blanket with her. She opened the door of her room as quietly as she could and tip-toed down the hall.

“Mama?” she whispered.

There was no answer – Mama must still be in bed. She went into the living room and saw Mama lying on the couch like she was last night – one arm was covering her eyes and the other one was hanging off, touching the floor. She wasn’t holding the bottle, though. It was on the floor on its side with a little dribble of brown liquid forming a small puddle under its mouth. Tatia went over and carefully picked up the bottle, but she accidentally brushed Mama’s hand. She froze, afraid Mama would wake up and be mad, but she didn’t move. In fact, her hand was cold – really cold – and it felt kind of funny, not really like skin. Tatia put down the bottle and her bear and gently covered Mama with her blanket. Now she would get warm and feel better when she woke up. Tatia picked up her bear and laid him on Mama’s tummy. That was sure to make Mama smile when she woke up. Then, Tatia picked up the bottle and took it into the kitchen to throw it away.

She was getting hungry, so she pulled a juice box out of the refrigerator and a Pop Tart out of the cabinet. She sat down at the kitchen table to eat so she wouldn’t make a mess. When she was finished, she threw away her trash and went into her room to get dressed. She stayed there and played for a while, but she checked on Mama every once in a while to see if she was awake yet. She wasn’t. After a long while, Tatia was growing bored playing by herself, so she ventured all the way into the living room.

“Mama,” she whispered. When she got no response, she spoke a little louder. “Mama, it’s time to wake up.”

She put her hand on Mama’s cheek. Her face was really cold, and Tatia was getting a little scared. She patted Mama’s cheek, but nothing happened. Then, she laid her head on Mama’s chest. Sometimes she went to sleep that way at night while Mama watched TV. She liked the sound of Mama’s heart beating and of her breath going in and out. Now she heard nothing. Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes, and she grabbed Mama’s shoulders and shook her gently.

“Mama, please wake up. I’m scared. Please wake up.”

She didn’t know what to do. Then she remembered what Mama taught her about the telephone.

“Tatia, if anything bad ever happens and you need help, just pick up the handset and hit this button that has a “1” on it. I have it programmed to automatically dial some nice people who will come and help you.”

Tatia, picked up the handset and pushed the button. In a minute she heard a nice lady talking.

“911. What’s your emergency, please?”

Tatia began to cry. “My mama won’t wake up, and she’s really cold.”

“What’s your name, sweetheart? And how old are you?”

“My name is Tatia and I’m five years old.”

“Is anyone else in the house with you?”

“No, just Mama.”

“Okay, Tatia. You did the right thing. Don’t hang up the phone. I’m sending someone to help you.”

The calm voice on the phone had a soothing effect on Tatia, and her tears began to dry.

“Tatia, is your door locked?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Can you unlock it?”

“If I stand on a stool.”

“Okay. Go get your stool and unlock the door so the helpers can get in.”

Tatia did as she was told. While she was putting the stool back, she heard sirens. Then, she went back and picked up the phone.

“Okay. I did it.”

“That’s great, Tatia. The helpers should be there any minute.”

Tatia took the phone and went back to the couch where she sat on the floor. Her bear had fallen off Mama’s chest, so she picked him up with her free hand and hugged him to her own chest.

“Mama,” she said quietly. “The helpers will be here in a minute. They’ll help you and make you warm.” Her tears were flowing again. “Dear God, please don’t let Mama be dead. Please don’t make her be in a box like Daddy.”

# # #

Want more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Read Preface and Chapter 1

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Read the Preface and Chapter 1 Here!

For the next few weeks I will be sharing the first several chapters Tatia’s Tattoo. Following is the Preface and Chapter 1. Chapter 2 will appear on Thursday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

 PREFACE: THE NIGHTMARE

Tatia couldn’t breathe. She could feel his weight on her chest, his hot breath on her face – and pain – she felt hot, searing pain running up the center of her body. Then, he rolled off of her, and she could breathe again, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to. If she could hold her breath long enough, maybe she could go where Mama and Daddy went, to their Father’s house. Suddenly, he grabbed her by the shoulder and jerked her off the bed into a standing position.

“Go clean yourself up. My friend will be here in fifteen minutes. Stop your bawling and freshen your make-up. You look like hell.”

He turned to the bed to straighten the rumpled sheets. When he caught sight of the fresh bloodstains, he threw his hands in the air in exasperation.

“Was this really your first time?”

The only reply from the bathroom was the sound of running water and soft sniffling.

“I could have charged twice as much,” he yelled.

Tatia woke with start as her alarm clock freed her from the nightmare she had re-lived for more than a decade. She turned off the alarm and slipped to her knees beside the bed, asking God to take away the horror of the dream and to replace it with His light. Basking in the love she felt in response to her prayer, she rose and picked up her partially packed suitcase from the floor. She placed it on the bed, ready for last-minutes toiletries, and headed for the shower. She had a plane to catch and girls to rescue.

CHAPTER 1: OFF TO CAMP

Tatia heard a car horn emit two quick beeps, and she knew her ride to the airport had arrived. She stepped out onto the balcony of her second-floor apartment and waved to the gray-haired man who stood beside the open door of an almost brand-new Lexus.

“Hi, Henry,” she called, waving and smiling as he looked up. “I’ll be down in two minutes.”

“No hurry, Miss,” he said, returning her smile. “We have plenty of time, and the traffic is light this morning, or at least lighter than usual.”

Tatia continued to smile as she closed and secured the sliding glass door. She was glad Henry had been available this morning. Her records at the executive car service she always used indicated that he was her preferred driver. She knew she could trust him to chat lovingly about his wife of nearly fifty years and his multiple children and grandchildren instead of hitting on her like some of the younger drivers.

She looked in the mirror and moved her arm into several positions to be sure her sleeve didn’t pull up and expose her mark of shame. Satisfied, she took a quick pass through the bedroom and bathroom in case she had forgotten anything vital. She closed the quart-sized plastic bag that held all the cosmetics she would need for a week at camp and tucked it into a corner of her small rolling suitcase. Then, she grabbed the laptop and the loose-leaf notebook that lay waiting on the ottoman in front of her favorite chair, slipped them into her shoulder bag, and headed for the door. She wouldn’t have time for work the next week, but she never liked to be completely out of touch – and she’d have time to review the notebook in the airport and on the plane. Before she shut and locked the door, she glanced around the tiny apartment that had been home since the previous year when the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act had been passed and she had been asked to chair the Council on Human Trafficking. The flat wasn’t much by Washington, D.C. standards, but as one of twelve trafficking victims whose job it was to advise policymakers, she wasn’t exactly an insider anyway.

“Good morning, Henry,” she greeted him again with a big smile. “Are you ready to roll?”

“Always ready to drive you wherever you need to go, Miss,” he replied with a grin. “You make yourself comfortable, and I’ll put your bag in the trunk.” He took her suitcase, knowing she would want to keep her shoulder bag with her.

Once they were on the road, Henry began a now-familiar conversation. “Miss Robins, I don’t understand why a successful lawyer like you continues to live in a cramped walk-up in this neighborhood. I’ll bet you could find something much nicer if you looked around a bit.”

“I’m sure I could, and it would be much more expensive. Then, I wouldn’t be able to afford to have you drive me around, and that would be just too sad.”

Henry sighed and continued. “I worry about you. This area isn’t safe for a young, beautiful woman alone. You need a husband who will protect you.”

“Henry, I know you care about me, and I appreciate it. But you know I’m waiting for God to choose a husband for me. Until He does, I have my guardian angels watching out for me.”

“So, I guess I should mind my own business and let Him mind His and yours. In the meantime, I’ll keep reminding Him that you need a good man in your life.”

Tatia laughed and changed the subject. “Henry, I’ll bet you can’t guess where I’m going today.”

“No, I can’t. But since you’re dressed in jeans and boots instead of a business suit, I’m guessing it’s not a business trip.”

“You’re right. No business for the next ten days. I’m going to visit some old friends, and then I’m going to summer camp for a week.”

“Summer camp, huh? My grandkids are each going to different camps this year.”

With that, Henry began talking about his favorite subject: his family. Tatia settled back into her seat and half-listened while she thought about her first time at camp.

It was the summer of her twelfth birthday with nothing to look forward to but three months of Texas heat in a house crowded with too many foster kids and Josie, her pre-menopausal foster mom. Josie didn’t really seem to like any of them, and she usually took her frustrations with her absentee, truck-driving husband out on the kids.

At least Tatia would be free of the incessant taunting of her classmates as they droned on about their hectic vacation schedules and the hardship of finding time for cheer camp, youth camp, and several other camps between trips to the beach, the mountains, and The Continent. Tatia had no idea what they meant by that last one, but she knew she was supposed to be impressed. She didn’t bother to answer the snide questions about her summer plans, plans that consisted of remaining unnoticed and spending as much time as possible losing herself in a pile of books at the blissfully cool library.

Even those expectations were probably too high. Since she would be home from school, she would be noticed and subject to Josie’s expectations. Josie didn’t like being called by her first name, but she would never be “mama” to Tatia. She was more like the wicked stepmother in Cinderella. While she was finding relief at the mall or the movie theater, Tatia would probably be stuck in a house with a couple of ancient window units and a few box fans that did little to fight the triple digit temperatures. Instead of spending time in the library, she would be surrounded by sweaty, smelly kids with runny noses, dirty diapers, or both. At least they could all go outside and spray each other with the water hose to cool down and wash away some of the unpleasant odors.

The only break Tatia could count on was the weekly meeting with her social worker. It wasn’t really Ms. Dunham’s fault that their time together was spent checking on Tatia’s situation and filling out reports. Even though Tatia was smart, pretty, and sweet, she had issues, issues that had kept her moving from foster home to foster home instead of finding the forever home she longed for. Most prospective parents wanted newborns or at least a toddler to rock and cuddle. The few who would consider an older child wanted one who would respond to overtures of love and tenderness instead of an emotionally unavailable little girl who rarely made eye contact and who resisted all efforts to break through her ironclad defenses. It didn’t help that her files included accounts of frequent night terrors caused by recurring nightmares. Still, sometimes Ms. Dunham dropped the formalities and took her out for ice cream or shaved ice, and that was better than nothing.

With such low expectations, Tatia was totally shocked when, at one of their meetings, Ms. Dunham said, “Tatia, how would you like to go to camp this summer?”

“Yeah, right. Like Josie would let go of that kind of money.”

Ms. Dunham smiled. “I know finances are tight right now, but this camp won’t cost Josie anything.”

“I don’t know. I spend enough time during the school year with those snobs. I don’t want to waste my summer with them, too.” The regular kids made life miserable for the foster kids, so the thought of spending more time with them seemed almost unbearable.

“You won’t be with your classmates from school. This is a camp especially for kids in the foster system, so everybody will be more or less in the same situation.”

“Ah, I see. It’s one of those ‘let’s take care of the poor foster kids so we can feel better about ourselves’ kind of things. And I suppose we spend most of our time in group counseling sessions spilling our guts to perfect strangers.”

Ms. Dunham was accustomed to the defensive cynicism of her young clients, so she wasn’t put off by Tatia’s resistance. “No, as a matter of fact, there are no counseling sessions. If the campers want to talk to a staff member about something, that’s okay, but the purpose of the camp is to have fun.”

“Fun, huh? Like what?” Tatia’s curiosity was piqued in spite of her best efforts to remain disinterested. By the time Ms. Dunham had given her a more detailed description of the camp facilities and activities, Tatia couldn’t help feeling a little excited by the possibility, but after so many disappointments in her life, she was afraid, too. “Maybe, but Josie would never let me go. She needs me to help with the little kids.”

“I’ve already mentioned it to her. She said if all the kids can go so she can have a week off, she’s all for it.”

“Oh, I see. So, I get stuck with the same bunch, just in a different location.”

“No, Tatia. It’s not like that. The campers are divided by age group, and each counselor has two campers for the week. You’ll be paired with a girl your own age, and the two of you will get lots of one-on-one attention from a counselor who is already praying for you and looking forward to meeting you.”

“I knew there was a catch. This is a church camp with lots of preaching and telling me what a failure I am. Right?”

“It is a faith-based camp, and there will be a couple of Bible stories each day, but the focus is on how special you are to God. And I guarantee you won’t be bored with the praise and worship times. All I can say is you’d better take your dancing shoes.”

“Really? The way you describe it, it sounds too good to be true.”

“It’s better. I’m probably not doing it justice. It’s only five days. What have you got to lose. You might have some fun.”

“Well, if you want to go to the trouble of getting it set up, I guess I could try it just this once.” She tried to retain her cool demeanor, but Ms. Dunham was thrilled to see a spark of something in Tatia’s eyes she hadn’t seen before – hope.

“Miss Robins?” said Henry. “We’re almost to your stop. Are you checking your bag or carrying on?”

Tatia knew his question was his diplomatic way of calling her out of her reverie. She had lost a bag once, and not wanting to repeat the experience, she had learned to pack lightly enough to meet the strictest carry-on limitations.

“Just drop me at the curb, Henry, and thanks for calling me back from La-La-Land.”

He smiled at her in the rear-view mirror. “Anything for my favorite passenger. I hated to disturb you. You looked like you were enjoying your thoughts. Looking forward to your week at camp?”

“I am, Henry. It’s an intense few days, but it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. And I get to do it with some very special people.”

“How special?” he asked mischievously.

“Henry, you’re impossible.”

She laughed as he stopped the car and moved quickly to the trunk to retrieve her bag. She was reaching for the door handle when her phone notified her that she had a text. She glanced at the screen and saw a selfie of Jesse in a do-rag and Harley T-shirt. The brief comment said, Wanna race?

She grinned and responded. You nerd! I’ll be in DFW before you make your first gas stop.

So smart & beautiful! 1st gas stop already.

You cheated! Left early!

His reply began with a thumbs up symbol, and then he continued. Making 500+ today. Stopping in Springfield, MO tonight. 400+ tomorrow. Breakfast Sunday?

Deal!

She slipped the phone back into the side pocket on her shoulder bag and slid toward the car door which was now open. As she stood up, she looked up into Henry’s grinning face.

“Very special, I think,” he said knowingly.

Tatia felt the heat rise in her cheeks, but she couldn’t help smiling back at him.

“Yes, I thought so,” he said as he pulled out the handle of her suitcase and handed it to her. “I’ve already scheduled myself for your return. I’ll be waiting in the cell phone lot when you touch down. Have fun.”

“I will, Henry, and thanks.”

# # #

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Blessings,

Linda

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